THE HEART OF KANJI: Life and death


Sei to Shi. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu
Sei to Shi. calligraphy by Rev. Masato Kawahatsu

生 (sei) means “life or live,” and consists of two parts. The bottom part is soil or ground and the top line represents a new plant. Because of the soil or ground, the plant can receive life and grow big.

死 (shi) means “death,” and consists of two parts. The top and left line represents a bone and the left side represents a person who is upside down in the ground. It indicates death of the person.

Many of us may not want to think about death. However, it’s a very important matter to think about. There is an old saying, “If you truly understand death, you can understand life.” So there is a strong connection between life and death. We will all die someday; we are all mortal.

Therefore, we must understand the true meaning of death when we’re young and alive because nobody knows when we have to go. We must be ready to accept death right now, like we are facing our own death.

A friend of mine died recently. He was a member of another faith, but had an open attitude and heart toward other religions.

He asked me to talk about the Konko faith and my beliefs. Once, I asked him, “Are you afraid of death?”

He answered, “I can honestly say I am still afraid of death.”

I then asked, “How old are you?”

He said, “I’m 84 years old.”

I asked, “Are you still afraid of death? I think you have lived a long and happy life. You should be able to accept death by now. I accepted my own death joyfully when I was 21 years old.”

He responded, “Wow! How could you accept death at such a young age?”

Then I explained how I trained at the Konko seminary school. While there, I became very ill. I prayed for recovery from my illness. However, I did not get well for many months. For six or seven months my health became worse and worse. Finally, I thought I was going to die and I was terribly afraid. I could not stand it any longer so I visited with the Konko head minister. Although he was the top minister of the Konko faith, he always stayed in the corner of the main mediation room of the Konko headquarters; he was waiting for people all day long. Anyone could go there and talk to him.

The Konko head minister spoke about how people pray sincerely to Kami, God or Buddha for a safe trip when traveling far. He asked, “How many of you pray sincerely when you just go next door or shop nearby?” Traveling far or short distances have the same value. They are the same. Oneness.

I was shocked because since I was child, I had learned the difference between far and near, big and small, rich and poor, day and night and especially the biggest difference between life and death. Yet the head minister said life and death have the same value. Oneness. The universe is so vast and we are so small, like dust or a single drop of rain.

However, I finally felt one with the vast universe. Since the universe has no beginning and no end, just eternity, I will also have no beginning, no end, just eternity. United with the universe at that moment, I was able to overcome my fear of death. I was overjoyed. I felt like a baby in the arm of my eternal parents, peacefully sleeping. I soon became healthy again.

I told my friend that he is in the arm of the universal parent now and forever.

He said, “Wow! It’s an amazing story and I wish to be like that.”

I answered, “I am sure you will, too.” My friend was no longer afraid of death and he enjoyed life without fear for every remaining moment.

So I hope you understand the meaning of life and death and will discover inner peace deep in your heart now.
My dear friends, you are in the arm of the universal parent now and forever.

Rev. Masato Kawahatsu is a minister at the Konko Church of San Francisco and Konko Center of South San Francisco, who teaches shodo (Japanese calligraphy) and martial arts. He also gives spiritual counseling. He is the author of “An Eternal Journey.” He can be reached at or (415) 517-5563. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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